The Atlantic County Baseball League dates back to the 1880s.
After all those years, it wouldn't be too likely that the ACBL could come up with anything new, but in its 128th season the Atlantic County League features its first all-road team - Team Univers, which has mostly players from the Hammonton area.
The nine-team ACBL, with some of the area's leading high school, college and adult players, begins its season today with two games at 7 p.m. The league's schedule runs through mid-August, including playoffs.
League president Yogi Hiltner said Saturday that the league has never had a team with no home field.
"It's OK to have an all-road team, because it's mostly about getting kids a chance to play the game," said Hiltner, the ACBL's president since 1980.
Today's games are Egg Harbor Township at Absecon, and Wildwood at Ocean City. The other teams are defending champion Margate, coached by Hiltner, Hammonton, Egg Harbor City and Ventnor. Northfield disbanded this year, and some of its players have gone to the other teams.
Team Univers, so named because it's sponsored by an insurance company, makes its debut against the already-established Hammonton team at 5 p.m. June 1 at Hammonton Lake Park.
Team Univers is coached by Chris Caprio, who played for Hammonton in the 1980s and 1990s. Caprio is the owner of the Hammonton Sports Center, which has a batting facility. However, the baseball field behind the batting cage is only Little League-sized and can only used by Team Univers for practices.
"The best memories I ever had in baseball were the 12 or 13 years I played in the Atlantic County League," said Caprio, 45, a Hammonton resident. "We didn't really try to get a (home) field. It takes a lot of work anyway to get a field ready. Getting to the away games in Wildwood will be tough, but the other games are only a half-hour away."
Team Univers features former Hammonton High School players Bobby Barbieri, A.J. Schibilia and Greg Morano, plus St. Augustine Prep graduate Jonathon Martinez, and former St. Joseph players Andrew Ordille and Jordan Barbone. All graduated in 2012. Also playing are current Hammonton High School juniors Justin Smith, Chris Caprio (the coach's son) and L.T. Struble.
Since the ACBL gained one team and lost another, the playoff format won't change. The teams with the eighth- and ninth-best records meet in a wild-card playoff game in late July. The winner meets the top-seeded team in a best-of-three series, and six other teams do the same (7 against 2, 6 against 3, and 5 against 4).
The semifinals are also best of three, and the ACBL championship series is best of five.
Margate swept Absecon 3-0 last year for its 20th championship in its 35 years in the league.
"We're very good, and most of our guys are back," Hiltner said of Margate. "Charlie Law will start off with us, but he'll probably be drafted (by a major league team). Pat Goodwin (a shortstop and leadoff man) is back and he was our top player last year. We picked up Eric Fitzgerald and Jared Lenko from Northfield. Lou Pepper (Margate's ace pitcher for several seasons) and Jason Law are back."
Hitner expects a competitive season. Ocean City and Egg Harbor Township are both in their second year in the league. Absecon should stay strong and has added some players. Hammonton was a semifinalist last year, and Ventnor, Wildwood and Egg Harbor City could improve.
How will Team Univers do?
"We may struggle early in the season, because some of our guys graduated high school last year and they haven't played in a year," Caprio said. "But they'll pick it up quick."
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